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December 06, 2016
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June is bustin’ out all over!

Just prior to the race, all participants gathered for the first annual Sullivan County Soap Box Derby.

Memorial Day weekend conjures up many images: backyard barbeques, flag-waving parades, garden parties and the requisite boat launches, as the lakes, rivers and ponds begin to swell with visitors swarming to the Upper Delaware valley. Many of us look forward to an extended, three-day siesta as the hammocks go up, and s’mores begin to waft through the night air.

I considered resting, but rejected the notion out of hand (that’s what winter is for). Here in the mountains, most of us wait until the end of May to begin our serious gardening, with confidence that Jack Frost has finally taken a hike. As the vegetables and flowers begin to climb toward the sun, I usually consider planting something, but rarely do. Fortunately, my neighbors dig in, providing me the opportunity to admire, without actually getting my hands dirty.

Over the years, I have strolled the gorgeous gardens at the Forestburgh Playhouse (, marveling at the show-stopping displays that producing director and Playhouse gardener Norman Duttweiler has created, so when I noticed that the “Miracle of the Forest” had been awarded a Sullivan Renaissance Phase 1 Beautification Grant, I pulled into the lot to check it out.

Not one to rest on his mountain laurels, Duttweiller had scheduled a morning to spend time with residents and fans who were anxious to help out with the project, which includes a new split rail fence, a children’s garden and renovation of the existing beds, borders and containers. Folks showed up (including Forestburgh town supervisor Bill Sipos) trowels in hand, and pitched in, knowing that the results will be, as always, spectacular. A second “volunteer day” is scheduled for June 2, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, so it’s not too late to lend a hand in anticipation of the theatre’s 66th season.

That same afternoon, the BrookHouse Gallery ( in Barryville, NY had scheduled a reception to present the “Wood Mask Collection” of artist George Saj. Never one to pass on hors d’oeuvres, I changed into shorts (Hot and Muggy, Attorneys at law) and made my way to the show. While chatting about the colorful, intricately carved masks with Saj, I noticed several of the gallery’s resident artists in attendance, including painter Beau Gostomsky, sculptor Janet Rutkowski, jeweler James Hawley and potters Ellany Gable and Carolyn Duke.

Many of the masks were recognizable subjects and, according to the artist, “each one has a legend, or story, behind it.” Heads of state, Greek gods and historical tyrants adorn the walls of the gallery, alongside lions, tigers and bears (and one whimsical fox, which, quite naturally, caught my attention). Saj, a retired surgeon, has traded in his bone saw for a band saw, and the results are amazing. The show runs through July 1, and is (IMHO) really worth a visit.

Running on empty, I made my way to Kauneonga Lake and refueled at the Changing of the Guard ( ), one of the many charming watering holes now lining Horseshoe Lake Road. With such a great variety of restaurants, bakeries and WiFi cafes springing up on its shores, Kauneonga has become a “destination” and I plan to eat my way through them all, while strolling the neighborhood and greeting neighbors along the way.

Internal engines revved, I headed out to Liberty, NY and the First Annual Sullivan County Soap Box Derby. Hundreds of cheering fans, scores of local sponsors and 32 racers were out in full force, and I learned a few things during the course of the day. All American Soap Box Derby regional director Mark Scuderi was impassioned while addressing the crowd. “This is much more than just racing these cars down a hill,” he announced. “It’s about building self-esteem.”

Divided into two categories and age groups, the boys and girls had spent a good deal of time on their tricked-out, motorless vehicles, most emblazoned with sponsorship logos, and all gleaming in the morning sun. Thirteen-year-old Jacob Feigenbutz, from Fremont Center, “watched the instructional video and built the car himself” without waiting for help from family members planning to assist, according to proud grandma Zoanne Deckelman. Derby champion Ryan Parsons will go on to compete in the National Derby in Akron, OH.

With summer just around the corner, the hills are very much alive, and the endless parade of events, entertainment and natural beauty has just begun. Gentlemen (and ladies)... start your engines!